(CNN) -- Researchers have discovered the oldest piece of gold jewelry ever found in the Americas, an academic journal reported Tuesday.
A team found the gold necklace near Lake Titicaca in Peru, according to the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It's 4,000 years old -- 600 years older than any other gold jewelry discovered in the Western Hemisphere.
The anthropologist who discovered the gold, Mark Aldenderfer, told CNN on Tuesday night that he sensed the importance of his find after noticing a glint while excavating a site with human remains.
"It appeared to be gold. That's when I knew we had something special," he said. "This was a complete shock."
He found the necklace about seven years ago, he said, but researchers kept quiet for fear that looters would raid the site. They also wanted to allow time for chemical analysis before announcing their discovery on Tuesday.
Video footage from Peru shows a necklace of nine gold tubes separated by 10 stones.
The find is important, Aldenderfer said, because it signals the early emergence of a desire for status among people who lived as relative equals without a formal leadership system.
The Andean people of that time, Aldenderfer said, had recently settled down after many generations as hunter-gatherers. Formal kings would not emerge for hundreds of years.
The person who wore the gold necklace may have sought to distinguish himself with a status symbol, Aldenderfer said.
The artifact is in the custody of the National Institute of Peru and may be displayed in a museum, he said. E-mail to a friend
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